The Nigerian government has been handed a 14-day ultimatum to reverse the proposed cuts in the healthcare and education budgets or face legal action.
Describing the reduction in budgetary allocations to the affected sectors as “illegal”, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project in letters addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila of the House of Representatives, questioned the exclusion of the budgets for the presidency and the National Assembly from the cuts.
SERAP, in the letter dated April 18, 2020, and signed by the Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, gave“the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and leadership of the National Assembly 14 days to reverse the proposed illegal cut of N26bn in basic healthcare budget and to cut the National Assembly and Presidency budgets instead, or face legal action.”
It further expressed concerns about the scale of the cuts in basic healthcare and education budgets and their disproportionate impact on the poorest.
“These cuts are not inevitable. The authorities have a lot of choices but chose to balance the budget on the backs of the most disadvantaged.
“The cuts would leave the poorest and most vulnerable people without access to these essential public goods and services, and without anywhere to turn, and despite the COVID-19 crisis. This would put both the government and the National Assembly in breach of their constitutional and international human rights and anti-corruption obligations.”
The group warned that sustaining the apparent lifestyles of legislators and powerful politicians while neglecting the provision of basic public goods and services would only exacerbate poverty, inequality, marginalisation and impunity in the country.
The letter read in part, “The COVID-19 crisis is a good opportunity to cut the cost of governance, particularly the unsustainable spending on the National Assembly expenses, and the presidency budget, and to focus on increasing budget allocations to healthcare and education.
“The authorities’ approach to National Assembly and presidency budgets ought to be ‘do more with less.’ While we understand that the country is facing difficult choices in budgetary allocations, the authorities should have prioritised cuts in National Assembly and presidency budgets to increase the allocations to healthcare and education.
“If the cuts are sustained, Nigerians will become justified in thinking that the government and the leadership of the National Assembly do not really care about improving the access of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to basic public services like healthcare and education.
“Cutting basic healthcare budget, especially at a time of COVID-19 crisis in the country, will undermine the ability of your government to effectively and satisfactorily respond to the crisis and to protect Nigerians and their well-being. Cutting educational budget would mean that 16m out-of-school Nigerian children would remain on the streets for many years to come.”
The non-governmental organisation warned that it would amount to irresponsibility and insensitivity for the government to continue to expend scarce public funds on lavish lifestyles of the legislatures and the executive, while depriving the most disadvantaged access to public goods and services, and place a burden on the next generation.
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